Will NJ Tighten Vehicle-Emission Standards Following California’s Lead?

Tom Johnson | March 27, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Garden State belongs to coalition that has agreed to lower emission standards in step with the Golden State

electric vehicle charging
For the time being, New Jersey is still going to have to figure out a way to begin selling low-emission vehicles in greater numbers.

In a vote on Friday, a California agency moved to press forward with a plan to require car manufacturers to offer cars and trucks with much lower emission standards, a program New Jersey and eight other states have agreed to follow.

The action by the California Air Resources Board sets up a potential confrontation with the Trump administration, which reportedly is considering pulling a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act, which allowed California to write and other states to abide by more stringent pollution standards for vehicles than the rest of the nation.

President Donald Trump already has acted to relax tougher fuel-efficiency standards adopted by the Obama administration for vehicles — a move backed by the auto industry, which also is seeking relief from the so-called California Low-Emission Vehicle program.

If California prevails in the fight, it would mean manufacturers would be required to sell vehicles with much lower emission limits, and zero-emission vehicles, either electric or powered by fuel cells, in the states. By 2018, at least 5 percent of the vehicles would have to be zero-emission, a tough goal to meet given that New Jersey has not built out an infrastructure to fuel or recharge such vehicles.

Still, in a state where clean-energy advocates have long criticized the efforts to shift to less-polluting transportation sector, the action by California was welcomed. Cars, trucks, and other forms of transit make up the largest source of emissions in New Jersey contributing to global warming.

“We have been hoping they would act,’’ said Pamela Frank, executive director of Charge EVC, a coalition promoting electric vehicles. “It lays a good foundation to get the market moving.’’

“It’s the best antidote to the Trump administration’s rollbacks on the environment,’’ agreed Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, referring to the California clean-car program. “For New Jersey, it is so important because over half of our carbon emissions come from cars and trucks.’’

“We’re on the hook beginning next year to start selling more electric vehicles,’’ O’Malley noted.

To some, the market needs a big push in New Jersey, which has fewer than 500 electric-vehicle charging stations, a fact that some blame on the lackluster sales of the zero-emission vehicles.

If the auto industry fails to meet the targets for selling such vehicles, which ramp up as the years pass by, it could face fines that are likely to be passed on to motorists, dealers say.

The auto industry also contends that the California emission standards pose a huge challenge and would likely greatly increase their costs. By 2025, under the program, the average fuel economy for new vehicles would jump to 54.5 miles per gallon.

Clean-energy advocates hope a settlement with Volkswagen over the automaker’s cheating on diesel-emissions tests could provide money to bolster the state’s efforts to usher in electric vehicles. New Jersey stands to receive $65 million from the case; about 15 percent of that could be used to promote zero-emission vehicles.